How to choose the right eCommerce Platform

There is certainly no lack of selection when it comes to choosing an eCommerce software solution for your business. Seeing as we are a company who works mainly with Magento Commerce and Shopify, we are often asked how to choose the right eCommerce platform. There is no straight forward response to this question, as choosing a platform is extremely difficult. I can even think of several instances where the two platforms we work with aren’t even a good fit for the client, so we need to point them elsewhere.

So, how do we evaluate and choose an eCommerce platform?

Who is your target audience?

This is truly where you should be starting.  Some eCommerce platforms are geared entirely towards the merchant who requires a strictly business to business (B2B) solution.  These platforms typically don’t have the same feature set as their business to consumer (B2C) counterparts and we have sadly seen some merchants go in the wrong direction right from step #1.  If you are intending on selling to the general public, you should be looking at a pure play B2C offering.  If perhaps all you do is wholesale business, then B2B platforms will have features that are tailored to wholesalers.  So, who is your customer?

You need the basics, so forget the other stuff until you have these checked off.

Doing a side by side comparison of platform features can be somewhat daunting as many of the platforms out there have hundreds of features and they are quite up front with listing them all on their website in some weird effort to impress merchants.

Here is our list of the real basics that you need in a platform:

  1. 100% Design Flexibility
  2. Friendly URLs (i.e. – www.mystorerocks.com/fancy-pair-of-shoes.html instead of www.mystorestinks.com/?productid=1234)
  3. Category and Product SEO specific control (titles, descriptions, meta info, url naming etc…)
  4. Rich Product Categorization options
  5. Support for multiple category and product templates.
  6. Source Code (paid or free, you want a completely open solution to touch/mold to your business as it grows)
  7. API.  If you can’t get source code, you at least want a rich API that allows you to build functionality extensions for your store.
  8. Payment gateway options, and lots of them!
  9. Shipping provider integrations, and lots of them!
  10. Community.  Having a strong community of fellow merchants, developers, and marketers is like having a large group of experienced personal advisors.

Like I said, there are hundreds of features, but we consider the above 10 to be absolutely critical.

Consider your in-house technical talent.

They say good programmers/developers can work with any language or framework.  The problem is, good programmers are hard to find in any industry, let alone eCommerce.  Many eCommerce operations have internal tech talent that know one language fairly well.  If you are looking at an eCommerce platform that is build on a technology stack that you are not equipped for, then you need to consider the secondary costs of training or replacing your internal talent.

What about platform cost (licensing).  What is too little?  What is too much?

This one is where many merchants get their first dose of “sticker shock”.  The eCommerce mid-market has literally hundreds of platforms available for your picking.  They range from open source (free) to tens of thousands of dollars in licensing.  At the end of the day, the cost shouldn’t matter as much as the value the platform will deliver.

The perfect example of choosing a platform strictly on “cost” is the Magento Commerce editions.  They have an extremely popular 100% free open source Community Edition. And then they have their Enterprise Edition, which starts at around $17,000 per instance/server. With these three options, we commonly get the business who is evaluating all three and has a hard time justifying the difference in cost.  Putting code base aside, the feature set that comes in Enterprise Edition is far superior to Community Edition just in the amount of revenue boosting features it offers merchants out of the box. 

If you’re a serious eCommerce store, even if you’re smaller store that does less than $1million/year in gross sales, you need to make sure you are choosing a platform that gives you the most bang for the buck.  Free is nice, but absolutely NOTHING is free, especially when it comes to open source technology!

To summarize, one of the main reasons we work with more than 1 eCommerce platform is because we don’t think that there is a one size fits all solution out there.  We help our clients go in a direction that will help them build a better eCommerce business.

I hope these pointers help you out in your eCommerce journey.  If you think I’ve missed anything critical I would be quite greatful for the feedback and hopefully some open discussion!